NEWS OF THE MORNING
No. 1: Warriors whip the champs — Watching the craziness of the trade deadline and refraining from diving in might have been the right call for the Golden State Warriors. The best team in the league didn’t feel the pressure to get involved on the busiest deadline day in NBA history. If Friday night’s whipping of the San Antonio Spurs is any indication, we know why. They are rock solid up and down the roster and continue to play like a team destined for big things in the postseason. Beating the champs was just business as usual for a team that has soared this season. Diamond Leung of the Bay Area News Group explains:
After the 110-99 victory Friday, the Warriors collectively shrugged at the significance of defeating their nemesis in a season during which they’ve sustained excellence and focused on fine-tuning for the playoffs.
“For us, we’ve been playing so well this season that we can’t really get distracted by the opponent as much as what we’re trying to do,” Warriors guard Stephen Curry said.
“It wasn’t just, ‘We’re beating the Spurs.’ It was, ‘We’re back to how we’re playing.’ ”
Curry, in an MVP-caliber performance, dazzled with 25 points and 11 assists. Klay Thompson added 20 points, and Andre Iguodala scored 14 off the bench as the Warriors improved to 43-9.
The league-leading Warriors showed deference in pregame comments about the Spurs. Coach Steve Kerr, who has borrowed elements of San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich‘s offense, called them “the gold standard.” Iguodala said San Antonio was Golden State’s “big brother.”
The Spurs cruised to a win at Oracle Arena in November, but the Warriors exacted a measure of revenge in dominating them this time.
The Warriors shot 17 for 33 from 3-point range. Curry and Thompson combined to hit seven 3-pointers, but the barrage didn’t end there as Iguodala was 4 for 6 from long distance and Draymond Green 3 for 6.
“We’re not going to make it like that (win) is a big deal,” Green said. “It’s not like we really made a statement to anyone that no one else didn’t know.”
On defense, the Warriors clamped down as the Spurs committed 16 turnovers playing in their second game of a back-to-back. San Antonio needed more than four minutes to score its first field goal in the second half as the Warriors added to their halftime advantage to take a 14-point lead.
By the end of the quarter, it became clear that a rout was in store for the Spurs as the Warriors bench came alive. David Lee then had a stretch where he threw down a dunk, came up with a steal and dished off an assist to Iguodala for a 3-pointer that gave the Warriors an 83-68 lead. Curry and Iguodala followed with back-to-back 3-pointers that sent the Warriors sideline and crowd into a frenzy.
“It’s pretty simple for us,” Kerr said. “Defend like crazy, take care of the ball, move the ball. When we do that, we have enough weapons where we’re going to score enough points.”
No. 2: Atlanta’s kryptonite … the Raptors — No one has toppled the Eastern Conference-leading Atlanta Hawks more than once this season, until Friday night. The Toronto Raptors popped them for the third time, this one an ugly home loss coming out of the All-Star break, a 1-2 matchup that made the challenger look like the kryptonite that could potentially derail the hawks’ postseason dreams. Mark Bradley of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution explains just how ugly it was Friday night at Philips Arena as the Hawks laid a royal egg in their stretch run opener:
Say this for the Atlanta Hawks: They don’t stink often, but when they do, they reek to high heaven. They lost Friday to Toronto by 25 points — the final was 105-80 — after trailing by 35, and full credit to the Raptors. They were primed. They became the first team to beat the Hawks three times. (Toronto was also the first to do it twice.)
And now you ask: Should Hawks fans be concerned? And the answer is: Nah.
This was almost a set-up game. The Hawks had spent the All-Star break living the All-Star life, to which few of them were accustomed. They had eight days to lose the rhythm that had carried them to 19 consecutive victories and 35 of 37, and they didn’t just lose it: They buried it at the bottom of the deepest ocean.
Speaking of oceans: As the saying goes, the Hawks couldn’t throw the ball in one. They missed 59 of 88 shots, 30 of 38 3-pointers. (It was their worst shooting night of the season.) Kyle Korver, on pace to have one of the greatest shooting seasons ever, had one of the worst games — and not only at shooting; he also had two egregious turnovers — in the history of the sport. When last did you see an All-Star actually throw up his hands in self-disgust?
They also missed seven of 21 free throws, including a Paul Millsap air ball. Holy moley.
The third quarter was comic. The Hawks missed 16 of 19 shots, including all eight of their treys, and made nine turnovers, off which the Raptors scored half of their 28 points. Five Hawks shots were blocked. Five Toronto shots were, too. In one screwball stretch, the visitors had three layups blocked — and still they stretched a four-point halftime lead to 19.
“They gave it to us good tonight,” Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer said, and here we note that his team had done something similar in Toronto last month, winning 110-89 on Jan. 16. That loss sat poorly with the Raptors.
“They were really ready to play,” Al Horford said. And his team? “Some of it has to be rust,” he said. “We threw the ball all over the place.”
Budenholzer: “I don’t think we played with the energy and activity we’ve gotten accustomed to night after night.”
When last the Hawks looked this awful, it was on the night after Christmas. They lost 107-77 here to Milwaukee after a two-day break. Then they won the next 19, going undefeated in January. That streak began, as fate would have it, in Milwaukee. And where do the Hawks play Sunday?
In Milwaukee. Just sayin’.
No. 3: Statement game for Cavs — Don’t let the record or their place in the Eastern Conference standings fool you, the (LeBron James-led) Cleveland Cavaliers are a legitimate championship contender. Everyone knows that by now. Don’t believe it? Just watch a few minutes from their demolition of the Washington Wizards from Friday night. It was all Jason Reid of The Washington Post needed to see to be convinced that the Cavs truly are the team to beat in the Eastern Conference:
History tells us it takes star power to win championships, and no one possesses more than the game’s best player. With the long all-star break over, James is back at work and focused on playing in the NBA Finals for the fifth consecutive season. It appears the Cleveland Cavaliers can help him get there.
Their slow start a distant memory, the surging Cavaliers rolled again Friday night, dismantling the listless Wizards, 127-89.
While dominating Washington and moving ahead of it in the conference standings, Cleveland won for the 15th time in 17 games. It was a familiar story, James shining as the catalyst and producing 28 points, five rebounds and six assists. The Cavaliers led by as many as 40 points, overwhelming the Wizards in another sharp performance.
Although Washington still was without injured guard Bradley Beal, you got the sense that Cleveland, which only would be seeded fourth if the playoffs began today, is the team to beat in the East. There’s much to like about the Cavaliers.
Everything revolves around James, who, in his 12th season, is as great as ever. But the four-time NBA most valuable player also was outstanding while the team struggled early in his return to Cleveland after a four-year run with the Miami Heat. What’s different now? A lot.
Increasingly, guard Kyrie Irving and power forward Kevin Love — the other members of the Cavaliers’ Big Three — have become more comfortable playing alongside James. It was silly to think that the all-stars would immediately click after James and Love arrived in the offseason. This isn’t fantasy basketball. The awkwardness apparently behind them, though, the high-profile co-workers are getting it figured out.
On Friday, Irving supported James with a 25-point, seven-assist effort. Love contributed eight points, six rebounds and toughness. The Wizards could have used some of that.
“We’ve lost that edge of nastiness that we played with,” Wizards Coach Randy Wittman said. “We came out and felt, again, we’re going to warm our way into this game. They had other ideas. They hit us in the mouth right from the jump ball, and we couldn’t recover from it.”
Yep. That pretty much sums it up.
For Cleveland, James, Irving and Love, as expected, have provided the foundation to potentially build something great this season. Cleveland’s in-season remodeling has paid off, too.
No. 4: Kupchak: Lakers will begin anew, with Kobe — Even if it is for just one more season, perhaps Kobe Bryant‘s final season, the Los Angeles Lakers will start over again next season with their biggest star in the middle of the mix. So says Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak, who made it clear that the plan is to build for the long-term future after this dismal season ends. Broderick Turner of The Los Angeles Times explains:
As bad as the Lakers are this season, Kupchak said they aren’t going to tank the last 28 regular-season games just to be ensured of getting that top-five pick.
“I just don’t know how you send that message to a coaching staff or players,” Kupchak said. “That’s not just something that we want people to think that we would do.”
The Lakers will get Bryant, who had season-ending rotator cuff surgery on his right shoulder, and rookie Randle, who is recovering from a broken right leg, back next season.
But Kupchak is not sure how much longer Bryant, 36, will play. Bryant is due to make $25 million next season.
Kupchak acknowledged the All-Star, who will be embarking on his 20th season in the NBA, is nearing the end of his career.
That means at some point the Lakers will have to start preparing for the future without Bryant.
“So at some point we have to start a new run,” Kupchak said. “That’s definitely going to include Kobe next year. Beyond that…. So to jeopardize the next five or seven years and bring in old veterans that make a lot of money just to win one more year because that’s Kobe’s last year or could be his last year, I’m not sure that fits into doing things the right way.”
SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Mavericks swingman Chandler Parsons injured his ankle Friday night … Chicago Bulls star Derrick Rose apologized for the “travel issues” that dogged him after the All-Star break … Miami Heat star Chris Bosh is in “great spirits” but his season could be over due to blood clots in his lungs …
ICYMI: Who says DeMarcus Cousins can’t thrive under George Karl? He looked just fine Friday night …